Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

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Doctor Who is a show featuring many mysteries - big gulfs and voids in the series' mythology that perpetually tantalize fans. And in these gaps there are many questions - questions that should be frequently posed, as is the way of these things but never fully answered, for they are not plot points in a 50 year narrative to be revealed, but the elements of mystique that has fired the imagination of viewers for decades.

One such mystery is the nature of the TARDIS itself. We've had many little details over the years, from chameleon circuits to HADS, but despite knowing there is much inside the old battered police box exterior we've seen little other than the console room over the years. And while it could be said with a certain amount of truth that this was a wily move on various producers' part to save on building extra regular sets, leaving the most famous time machine of them all unmapped, without a handy Eagle Comic style cutaway diagram, has been a stroke of genius. Anything could be there and what's more, as the Doctor frequently reconfigures the TARDIS, as seen in the various remodellings of the console room, anything we have been shown over the years, might not still be there now. The heart of the TARDIS in it's purest sense is essentially a great white space on a blank map.

So then when it was announced that we'd be seeing a story entitled Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS, some were concerned that an important part of the show's mystique would be punctured. Others, like myself, however weren't too worried - and it wasn't just a case of knowing that those in charge of the show know too well what not to mess with, but more a case of you couldn't possibly reveal all the TARDIS's mysteries, pin down the geography of an ever changing ship of possibly infinite size, in forty-five minutes in the first place.

But that said, I would be lying if I didn't admit to having some concerns. Firstly I was worried that what was presented of the labyrinth outside the console room would look rubbish. For we have taken such a trip before in the Fourth Doctor story The Invasion of Time, indeed it was in this adventure we first saw the fabled TARDIS swimming pool. However with the best will in the world, it had to said that discovering the TARDIS interior largely appeared to consist of corridors that looked suspiciously similar those of a contemporary hospital (St Anne's Hospital, Surrey to be precise) was somewhat disappointing. So while the central mysteries of the TARDIS' interior are pretty much impregnable, the essential mystique of its contents on the other hand can be somewhat deflated by poor set design!

Thankfully however, as it turned out, the TARDIS interiors we did get to see were fine. Yes, there was a certain about of identikit corridors but there was also visits to new areas and rooms to balance that out. And while some fans might be moaning that we didn't see the wardrobe room, the butterfly room or even the bins that have all been mentioned in past stories, surely seeing the TARDIS library and the Eye Harmony chamber made up for it.

On the other hand, I was a teeny bit disappointed that we need didn't see much that resembled the classic series TARDIS. A seeming missed opportunity for, as some folks online have observed, they have built a replica set of the first console room from the docu-drama on the creation of the show coming later this year. However on reflection there are good reasons for this - the recreated original TARDIS set will have been made as a part of a larger set recreating the entire studio and as such would take a lot of work to make it look like a 'real' console room, plus there'd be additional expenses in creating corridors with designs to match etc.

However my other and more pressing concern was that this episode was to be written by Steve Thompson, who previously brought us The Curse of the Black Spot - which in fairness, was not an episode I hated but one I felt could have been better. Weighting up the two, pound for pound I'd say Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS is easily the stronger of the two, but there was the same kind of niggles in the script.

My main beef with this episode is the three space salvage brothers. Now some have said they could have been done away with completely and I think there is some truth in that. However as the Doctor and Clara were separated for much of the action, we did possibly need some one for Matt Smith to bounce ideas off. But that said, I could see this working better as a two-hander potentially with the TARDIS just being obtuse and not letting the Doctor find Clara.

However fascinating alternative plots aside, three brothers is what we got. Now the concept of having one brother effectively tricked out his inheritance and duped into thinking he was an android is a fantastic concept for a subplot, indeed given all the folk tales and fairy stories about sets of three brothers to play with, it could have have been enough for an adventure in itself. But as a subplot, but it all felt rushed and tangential here. I think they should have gone either with the stealing a circuit and annoying the TARDIS plot strand or the android hoax - either on its own would have tightening the story up, but doing both made it feel somewhat cluttered.

I guess also that some will have been annoyed by having a big reset button end, but in fairness calling it out in the story itself as a big reset button in a cheeky fashion does somewhat off-set it for me. Furthermore the business with a crack in time, the TARDIS exploding, and all the hints about Clara may mean there is more to this story than first meets the eye. There may well be a big price tag on that bit of time-wimey trickery. Certainly I don't belief for a second that Clara has entirely forgotten the Doctor's the name...

However, despite all the carping above, I must say I did rather enjoy this episode. The trip into the TARDIS was fun, I loved hearing audio samples from the show's past leaking out the damaged console, and adored the Gallifreyan enclopedia being in liquid form. The time zombies were nicely creepy - like last week making a monster very effective by showing us it partially most of the time - and the reveal of what they actually were was quite ingenious. However ultimately, like his pirate adventure, I do feel this one wasn't quite all it could have been. But while Curse of the Black Spot was fun but forgettable, Journey of the Centre of the TARDIS is more a good episode that with a bit more polishing might have been a classic.

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JIM MOON, 28th April 2013